By Hideyuki Sano
TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian shares struggled for traction on Monday after U.S. employment data raised doubts about the strength of the global economy, while investor jitters ahead of crucial Brexit votes in the UK parliament this week weighed on the pound.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was little changed from Friday’s three-week low, with broad weakness offset by small gains in Chinese shares.
China’s blue-chip CSI300 index gained 0.5 percent after Friday’s 4.0 percent fall, which was triggered after CITIC Securities issued a rare “sell” rating on a major insurer and by a clampdown on grey-market, margin financing. [.SS]
“Trading volume is surging while foreign investors have been selling late last week,” said Naoki Tashiro, president of TS China Research, adding that suggests buying by retail investors is driving Chinese shares.
Japan’s Nikkei gained 0.2 percent after four consecutive sessions in the red last week.
Wall Street’s main indexes posted their biggest weekly decline since the market tumbled at the end of 2018 last week, falling for the fifth consecutive day on Friday on the shocking payrolls data.
The U.S. economy created only 20,000 jobs in February, the weakest reading since September 2017. As a result, bond yields dropped, with the 10-year Treasuries yield hitting a two-month low of 2.607 percent. It last stood at 2.638 percent.
The two-year yield also hit a two-month low of 2.438 percent, edging near the current Fed funds rate around 2.40 percent.
Fed funds futures are pricing in more than 20 percent chance of a rate cut this year.
“The headline reading was so weak that the market could have reacted more aggressively. I would say markets reacted relatively calmly because there were elements that suggest weakness is temporary,” said Tomoaki Shishido, fixed income strategist at Nomura Securities.
While job growth was weak, average hourly earnings rose 11 cents, or 0.4 percent, raising the annual increase to 3.4 percent, the biggest gain since April 2009.
Retail sales figures for January’s due at 1230 GMT is a key focus given its December reading was surprisingly weak.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell said on Friday that the central bank will be careful not to shock financial markets as it stabilises its bond portfolio, saying that it does not see problems in the U.S. economy that warrant an immediate change in its policy.
He also said the new normal for the Fed’s total liabilities may be in the ballpark of 16.5 percent of GDP. Many market players now expect the Fed to unveil a plan to end its balance sheet runoff as early as next week.
Chinese data released over the weekend was slightly weaker though hopes for more policy support are likely to cushion any blows.
New bank loans in China fell a bit more than expected in February from a record the previous month, while money supply growth also missed forecasts.
Following the data, China’s central bank on Sunday pledged to further support the slowing economy by spurring loans and lowering borrowing costs.
A senior Chinese official said on Saturday China and the United States are still working day and night to achieve a trade deal, keeping alive hopes for an agreement to eliminate tariffs.
Yet doubts are creeping in as there is no clarity on when the leaders from the two countries can meet to seal any deals.
In the currency market, the euro stood at $1.12315, keeping some distance from Thursday’s $1.11765 hit after the European Central Bank’s surprisingly dovish stance. It was its lowest since late June 2017.
The dollar edged down 0.1 percent to 111.05 yen, having peaked at a 2-1/2-month high of 112.135 last Tuesday.
The British pound was wobbly at $1.2969, down 0.3 percent.
It had fallen to a three-week low of $1.2945 earlier on Monday on nervousness ahead of a crucial week in the UK’s troubled political debate over EU membership, with parliament expected to reject Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal in a vote on Tuesday.
If that happens, lawmakers will vote the next day on whether to leave without a deal on March 29. If they reject that, then on Thursday they are due to vote on a “limited” delay.
Oil prices rose on comments from Saudi oil minister Khalid al-Falih that an end to OPEC-led supply cuts was unlikely before June and on a report of falling U.S. drilling activity.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 0.5 percent to $56.33 per barrel. Brent futures went up 0.3 percent to $62.95 a barrel.
(Editing by Sam Holmes & Kim Coghill)